deep div­ing

a state of mind

Adventure - - Events - Words and Im­ages by Neil Ben­nett LEFT: In­side the Coolidge - RIGHT: Un­der the bow

Every­body loves an ad­ven­ture and each in­di­vid­ual, no mat­ter what sport you are in­volved in, dreams of tak­ing that ad­ven­ture to a cer­tain limit be­yond their com­fort zone to feel that buzz, the adren­a­line rush, a sense of over­whelm­ing achieve­ment. Just how far you take that ad­ven­ture is up to the in­di­vid­ual, you don’t learn to swim just to dip your toes in the wa­ter! No mat­ter the realm you seek to ex­plore there is a road of learn­ing and ex­pe­ri­ence you must travel be­fore you can reach your des­ti­na­tion. For me it has al­ways been the need to ex­plore, to find those lost ship­wrecks and dive deep where few have dared to ven­ture. Strangely enough they go to­gether quite well. The best wrecks are usu­ally found in deep wa­ter, in­tact and pro­tected from the un­for­giv­ing el­e­ments of the sea. You can get the same buzz drift­ing over a canyon that drops away hun­dreds of me­tres be­low you as if you were stand­ing at the top of a moun­tain, or mak­ing that enor­mous de­cent to 100m depth as the adrenalin kicks in just as you be­gin your freefall from the safety of an air­plane. But what is prob­a­bly missed by most peo­ple is the jour­ney you need to take to pre­pare your­self for this mo­ment. There are many divers in the world, a large per­cent­age of which never re­ally dive be­yond 20m, a num­ber which the sports div­ing world con­sider it “deep div­ing”. Take the next level of train­ing and you can in­crease the depth to 40m. Not bad, we are just now en­ter­ing the zone where most ship­wrecks worth­while div­ing lay to rest. In the tech­ni­cal div­ing world we have just reached the point of what we re­gard as “deep div­ing” be­gins. Here ev­ery­thing starts to change: equip­ment evolves to pro­vide re­dun­dancy, suit­able to the task in mind and of qual­ity; we have to plan the dive in de­tail, know ev­ery minute where we should be, what we should be do­ing; plan our gases, amount needed to com­plete the dive, what gases we need to breath at each depth; how long we can stay at each depth, where we have to stop our as­cents and what to do if some­thing goes badly wrong – our con­tin­gency plan­ning. In de­com­pres­sion div­ing prob­lems have to be solved in the wa­ter with an ar­ti­fi­cial ceil­ing there is no just pop­ping up to the sur­face to sort it out – that spells dis­as­ter or even worse a pos­si­ble fa­tal­ity. Just like that freefallin­g parachutis­t, if it goes wrong, solve it now or don’t solve it at all. Ei­ther way it’s up to you. So the jour­ney is long, there is no short cut if you want to join in ex­plor­ing the Earths last true fron­tier. Where you aware we know more about the moon than the ocean depths? In­cred­i­ble when you con­sider 7/10ths of the planet is cov­ered by wa­ter. To be­gin you need to get through the early lev­els of the sports diver train­ing (open wa­ter & ad­vanced) and then move onto the tech­ni­cal cour­ses. You have to learn about the gases we breathe and un­der­stand how they af­fect you un­der­wa­ter. The im­pact ni­tro­gen has on us (which is 78% of the air we nor­mally breathe). Did you know we can­not breath 21% oxy­gen (air) past a depth of 66m as it be­comes poi­sonous (oxy­gen toxicity) to us so we re­place with he­lium to re­duce the oxy­gen and ni­tro­gen con­tent, a prod­uct known as Trimix, al­low­ing us to reach the depths of well over 100m and be­yond. These are cov­ered by a set of cour­ses know as Nitrox, Ad­vanced Nitrox, De­com­pres­sion Pro­ce­dures, Ex­tended Range and Ad­vanced Trimix. 5 cour­ses, that will keep you busy! Each course in­tro­duces new skills, more knowl­edge, more equip­ment and a lot, lot more div­ing. Ex­pe­ri­ence counts for a lot. Did I men­tion it was a long jour­ney? But each step of the way is fun, build­ing on the foun­da­tions of the pre­vi­ous course, ul­ti­mately giv­ing you the self-be­lief for the ad­ven­ture you are about to em­bark on. So now I am ready, I am sit­ting on the side of the boat. The time for idle chat has gone & I am run­ning the dive plan through my mind. Re­fresh­ing the depth times and tasks to be per­formed, mak­ing sure my dive slate is clear on my fore­arm to see. Sys­tems check: back mounted twin sets for my bot­tom breath­ing gas are open and work­ing. My travel gas is on and ready, mounted un­der my left arm. My two de­com­pres­sion gases of dif­fer­ent oxy­gen mixes are clearly la­beled and ready un­der my right arm, that’s five cylin­ders in to­tal! Main com­puter set cor­rectly and work­ing, backup com­puter set and work­ing, main um­bil­i­cal torch work­ing, backup light work­ing, main sur­face maker buoy and line stowed cor­rectly, back buoy and reel stowed cor­rectly, spare mask stowed, main knife reach­able, backup knife stowed cor­rectly. Dry­suit air­line work­ing, backup BCD in­fla­tor hose stowed cor­rectly and I haven’t even checked the cam­era sys­tem yet! Cam­era on, both strobes on, ready for some­body to pass to me in the wa­ter. Are we in the wa­ter yet? Splash, now we are ready to go. Not quite! Another round of checks at 5m with your buddy to make sure noth­ing is miss­ing or air is leak­ing. I check him and he checks me. Now we are good to go. For me record­ing what I am see­ing is a big part of why I dive, al­most duty bound to pass on the ex­pe­ri­ence to oth­ers but the prepa­ra­tion it­self it dif­fi­cult to con­vey. The men­tal process you need to go through in plan­ning. No­body sets my gear up, only me. Like pack­ing your own para­chute, if I mess up it’s my fault; if you screw up I’ll come back and haunt you!

As we start to drop through the wa­ter col­umn you can feel your heart beat in­crease in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the dive, ex­cited by the drop off into the abyss. We are de­scend­ing 100m so the plan time just to freefall is ap­prox­i­mately 3 min­utes. At 50m we are chang­ing from our travel gas and onto our bot­tom gas. As time and depth in­crease the more Nar­co­sis will be­come a big­ger fac­tor, your senses be­gin to dull and the nar­cotic in­flu­ence takes ef­fect. Your senses kick into auto mode & you start to run the rou­tine you have trained on so many times be­fore; check the time – where should I be – what gas should I be breath­ing – are we on plan? All good , touch down, we have reached our tar­get and now I must do the job I have come to do. I have a pre-planned list of im­ages to try and take but the dif­fi­culty is you don’t know what the sub­ject, the ship­wreck, will be like un­til you are there. Too dark, murky and just bor­ing bro­ken chunks of me­tal so you have to get the per­spec­tive you need and di­rect your buddy into the film set in a vain hope the au­di­ence can see and un­der­stand what you are show­ing them. But we have a prob­lem; my buddy is suf­fer­ing from Nar­co­sis too! So the pan­tomime of two divers danc­ing around the ship­wreck un­folds as they both at­tempt to com­mu­ni­cate what is re­quired. 20 min­utes bot­tom time is soon over, no one last photo op­por­tu­nity, time is time and once the plan says up, that’s it! And so be­gins the long, long slow process of sur­fac­ing be­gins. Pre­form­ing ul­ti­mate buoy­ancy con­trol & check­ing your as­cent speed. Halt­ing at each planned mi­crobub­ble and de­com­pres­sion stop. Each one get­ting longer than the pre­vi­ous one. At 50m switch back to the travel gas, at 20m change to the first deco gas, then fi­nally at 3m onto the 100% oxy­gen mix. Breath any­one of these at the wrong depth for too long then it could be all over in an in­stance. That plan now needs to be fol­lowed with­out de­vi­a­tion. Times, depths and cor­rect gas use are crit­i­cal for safety! The cam­era has long been stowed away and now is re­placed with the sur­face marker buoy, as it is in­flated and sent off to the sur­face. Each move­ment to­wards the sur­face re­quires the line to be reeled in to re­move the dan­ger of en­tan­gle­ment and at the same time, still con­trol­ling your buoy­ancy, mak­ing sure your o the right gas, mon­i­tor­ing your depth and time if you are on the 100% oxy­gen, no deeper than 6m oth­er­wise game over! The 3m stop lasts for­ever, at these bot­tom depths don’t be sur­prised if you have to float there for well over 1-2 hours; all for a 20min bot­tom time. Fi­nally you reach the sur­face and the sense of achieve­ment is mas­sive. You’ve been forced to be in si­lence for sev­eral hours & now you just want to talk! Ev­ery­one wants there story out, all the things they saw dur­ing the dive and what tribu­la­tions they had on their ad­ven­ture. You are left with this smile on your face know­ing that you have been some­where & seen some­thing few other peo­ple have wit­nessed on this planet and prob­a­bly in time too. You know you are in­deed a priv­i­leged per­son, hav­ing got there by your own abil­ity and for­ti­tude, all built on a plat­form of sound train­ing. If you would like to know more about tech­ni­cal div­ing visit our web­site or con­tact:

In­side the cargo hold

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